Pierce VanDunk

About Pierce VanDunk

I'm a Junior at Nyack College studying Bible and Theology. I love Jesus, which is why I want to be a Bible professor; my goal is to learn as much as I can about Him and teach others what I learn. My favorite teams are the Mets, Celtics, and Cowboys (don't hate me New Yorkers!). I also enjoy playing guitar and reading. Connect with Pierce on Google+

What to Expect from Personal Spiritual Formation

PSFPersonal Spiritual Formation is a class that teaches ministers- and theologians-in-training how to address their own spirituality so that they are able to address the spiritualities of others. Like every Bible, ministry, and ICS major at Nyack College, I am required to take Personal Spiritual Formation. Being that it’s my last semester and I haven’t filled that requirement yet, I’m taking the class this semester. I heard mixed reviews about PSF; some said it was the most enlightening class they had ever taken, but others said that it was silly and pointless. To be honest, I had been dreading PSF ever since I first heard about it. I thought that it would be a group therapy session where we would be graded on how much we cried. After going to the first class session I realized that I was completely wrong about PSF. For those Bible, ministry, or ICS majors who are not looking forward to this class, let me explain what to expect from Personal Spiritual Formation.

Each class session consists of two halves: the lecture and the small groups. The lecture addresses subtopics of Spiritual Formation, gives biblical perspective on the issues addressed, and provides techniques to help solve these issues. For the first week the lecture was conducted by Ron and Wanda Walborn, the primary instructors for the class. The subjects that they addressed were the role of God and the individual in Personal Spiritual Formation and the requirement of honesty in the process of Spiritual Formation. I was surprised at how much content and educational material there is at the base of this class. Clearly it is much more a group therapy session. Though I disagree with a few assertions made by the professors, their class notes were well put together, well thought out, and based on Scripture. I appreciated the amount of scholastic effort put into creating the lectures.

As explained by the leader of my small group, the small group portion of the class is meant to take what we learned about in the lecture and unpack it on a personal level. Normally I am very selective about the people with whom I share my personal issues, but I decided on the way to my first small group session that I would be open and transparent in order to make the most out of the class. I was afraid that I would be expected to share my innermost thoughts on the first day, but my spiritual director explained that we would simply get to know the members of our group and establish trust before delving into the “heavy stuff.” Needless to say, I was very appreciative of this. From what I could tell, the spiritual directors are trained to be tactful and attentive during small group.

If I had known the truth about what to expect from PSF, I would have looked forward to enrolling in the class. It is a great opportunity to develop the ability to address those things from your past that will negatively affect your life, relationships, and ministry. It also equips you to face future problems with firm faith and a sound mind. Now that I know what a great experience it will be, I am actually excited about taking Personal Spiritual Formation this semester.

Climbing up Masada

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Masada My GS-L trip to Israel was amazing, but it was not my first time visiting the biblical lands. I traveled through Israel once before with a church group and did some of the same things that I did with the GS-L group. One of the things I remember most about my first visit was taking a cable car to the top of Masada, a plateau with a lot of significance in Jewish history. The cable car was a smooth, air-conditioned ride to the top of the plateau, which stands more than a thousand feet above the surrounding ground level. There is another way up Masada, though: the Snake Path. It is a rough, winding road through the cliffs around Masada. I wanted to take this route the first time I was there, but because our group had many elderly people the majority voted that we take the cable car. When I heard that our GS-L group would be climbing up Masada early enough to see the sunrise from the top, I was extremely excited.

We started out around four-thirty in the morning, drove twenty minutes to the site, and began our climb. After only a few minutes everyone started to realize how out-of-shape we all are. We were breathing heavy and we started to sweat even though it was fairly cool outside. After nearly forty minutes of climbing we finally made it to the top. Our timing was almost perfect. Within a few minutes we viewed a beautiful sunrise over the Moab Mountains in the distance. Next Dr. Notley and Professor Garcia, our group leaders, explained the historical significance of the site. It was first used by Herod the Great as a luxurious fortified palace. Not long after Herod’s successors abandoned it Jewish rebels who opposed Roman rule used it as a fortress. The Romans successfully sieged the fortress, but the rebels killed themselves and their families in order to avoid admitting defeat by their enemies. This event in Jewish history receives mixed sentiments; some see it as a symbol of valiant Israeli independence, but others consider it an example of Israel’s isolationist policy. The history lesson was very interesting, and the view from the top of Masada was unbelievable.

Near the end of our visit to Masada I was disappointed to find out that we had taken the easier of two snake paths. We had gone around the back of the plateau and taken the shorter, less treacherous route since some of our group would not have been capable of taking the other Path. Instead of viewing this as a disappointment, I saw it as a challenge and a reason to return to Israel. I made a large step in conquering Masada, and one day I will return and finish the job by climbing the real Snake Path.

GS-L Trip to Israel

 

 

Thirty-five students of Nyack College, including myself, began the new year in the Holy Land. From January fifth to the seventeenth I joined the GS-L trip to Israel. Our group was lead by Dr. R. Steven Notley and Professor Jeffery Garcia; both are professors at Nyack’s/ATS’s Manhattan campus. We were also joined by Dr. Carlo, one of the deans at ATS in Manhattan. After nearly fifteen hours of travel we began to explore the attractions that Israel offers to tourists and religious pilgrims. We were able to see and experience many biblical sites and receive thorough explanations of the connections between the site and the scriptural text from the professors who acted as our guides for the trip. Not only was our journey educational, but it was spiritually enlightening as well.

The professors who guided us are qualified and knowledgeable about the biblical lands. Dr. Notley lived in Israel for sixteen years and received his PhD from Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He has been leading tours of Israel for over two decades. Professor Garcia is currently pursuing his PhD and is familiar with the biblical lands because of his experience leading tour groups throughout Israel. Dr. Carlo has been on multiple trips to Israel, so he was able to offer a lot of supplemental information. These three professors educated us on the geography, history, and culture of the places we visited. In many ways these site visits changed the way I read certain parts of Scripture.

Caesarea This is a picture of me standing on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea at the port of Caesarea. Caesarea is a port city built by Herod the Great in honor of Augustus Caesar. It served as the place of residence for the pontiff of the province of Judea in the Roman Empire. We toured the enormous, elaborate first-century palace complex located near Caesarea’s harbor. When the Apostle Paul was imprisoned for two years, it was in this complex. The remnant of the palace complex lead scholars to believe that Paul’s detainment was not as grueling as is often assumed.

Omrit In this picture some of our group is exploring the ruins of Omrit, the excavation site of a temple dedicated to emperor worship. This site did not have scriptural significance, but it was very interesting to learn about the sites history. Like Caesarea, the temple at Omrit was built by Herod the Great in honor of Augustus Caesar.

Sea of Galilee Here Mitchell Woodford and I are posing with Dr. Notley and Professor Garcia in a boat sailing across the Sea of Galilee (which is more commonly known in Israel as the Lake of Galilee or the Lake of Gennesaret). This is where Jesus and Peter walked on water and where Jesus calmed the storm. It is much too small to be considered a sea (about thirteen miles long and eight miles wide), which is why it is referred to as a Lake by the residents. Being able to see and sail on the Lake gives me a more realistic picture of Jesus’ activities on and around it.

The stories you read in the Bible come alive when you are able to see the land and the culture that surround them. Not only were we able to learn about the history of Israel but we were educated about the nation’s current status as well. It is vibrant, lively, and culturally rich, but there is a lot of religious and political unrest. In many ways Israel, and especially Jerusalem, lacks peace. The Bible mandates that we pray for the peace of Jerusalem, and this trip made the peace of Jerusalem a legitimate concern for me. I thank Nyack College and the GS-L program for giving me the opportunity to travel to Israel.

Preparing for a Global Service-Learning Trip to Israel

Every year during Winterim Nyack College sends groups of students to different parts of the world to study different regions and cultures. These trips are called Global Service-Learning trips (Or GS-L Trips). They are led by professors and faculty members that are very familiar with the region to which the group is traveling, and they are both educational and exciting. The trips are offered at a reasonable price and are most often taken for course credit. I am fortunate enough to be able to go on a GS-L trip to Israel during the Winterim of the 2013-2014 school year. I am looking forward to exploring the biblical lands and studying the culture of its inhabitants. Here are some tips that helped me to prepare for my GS-L trip.

If you are considering going on a GS-L trip, then start planning for it early on in the school year. There are various deadlines that must be met for applications and payments, and you do not want to be caught unaware or CTA button for Blog UGunprepared when the time comes to deal with these things. The prices for the GS-L trips are very reasonable, but they still cost a significant amount of money. Sit down with your financial aid counselor to decide whether or not the trip is in your budget and what the best way is to pay for it. The office of Student Financial Services is very helpful for students with financial concerns about the GS-L trips. Keep in mind that you can help to raise money for your trip by asking for financial support from local churches and businesses. Thankfully I was able to make each payment for my trip to Israel, and Student Financial Services helped me through every step of the way.

The most important thing to remember when preparing for a GS-L trip is that it is a class. This means that pen-and-paper assignments will no doubt be incorporated with the GS-L trip experience. This may involve work before, during, and/or after stepping onto the plane. Before going to Israel I was required to read a book, write a report, and study a series of maps. The good thing about all of this work, though, is that it familiarizes the traveler with the ins and outs of the land to which they travel. Through the readings and exercises I did for my Israel trip I became very familiar with the geographical layout of the biblical lands. If you are planning to go on a GS-L trip, do not forget that the trip is not a vacation and that you will be doing real work and learning while in other countries. Do not let this discourage you from taking the opportunity to go on one of these trips, though, because the work that they entail is far outweighed by the incredible experience that the trips are.

It is one thing to read about a civilization in a book or an article, but visiting and exploring that civilization is something entirely different. To have a hands-on experience at a sight that may be read of in a text book or in Scripture makes the place more memorable and more meaningful. Global Service-Learning offers this opportunity to have a hands-on experience.

Leap of Faith

New YearsI have never been a big fan of clichés, but sometimes they are very fitting for my situation. The phrase “leap of faith” applies to my life in a few different ways for the new year. I am taking a lot of big new steps in 2014 that require a good amount of risk and faith. When I think of this phrase I imagine myself standing on a ledge with another ledge in front of me and a chasm in between. The chasm seems slightly too wide to jump across, but on the other ledge is an opportunity that will bring me success. If I do not leap, I will remain stagnant in a situation that I have outgrown. My resolution for 2014 is to leap over every chasm to the opportunities that God has set on the ledge in front of me.

The first leap of faith that I will have to take this year is transitioning between jobs. Until now my main concern in deciding on a job was getting a paycheck. Although payment is still important to me, it is no longer my main concern. I have realized that when looking for a job I need to look for opportunities that work toward my career path and toward God’s calling for my life. I do not yet know what that will look like, but I know that it will require transitioning out of my current job at a doctor’s office. I have enjoyed my time working there and it has taught me many important lessons, but I feel that my time there is through. It will take faith to leave a comfortable job situation, but I am looking forward to exploring new opportunities.

The next leap of faith for me will come after graduation. Transitioning between undergraduate and graduate school can seem like a scary thing because of the uncertainty involved; the chasm seems wide in this situation. The finances, stress factors, and time management involved with moving to a new place and taking on a new educational endeavor might seem daunting, but once I leap the chasm will start to seem smaller and smaller.

The last major leap of 2014 will be getting married. I will be getting married soon after graduation, and this will be a major change in my life. I am confident and excited about marriage, but I realize that it will take hard work and commitment to make our marriage successful. Marriage requires a leaping over the chasm of doubt and uncertainty onto the ledge of love and commitment. I am ready to take this leap of faith.

One thing that 2013 taught me is that when God calls me to something, it will usually require a leap of faith. Many opportunities that I took this year did not seem absolutely certain to be successful, but these opportunities would not wait for me while I was uncertain. Whenever I leaped for a good opportunity, I either found success or learned valuable lessons in failure. Whenever I was hesitant, the opportunity passed me by. This year I plan on taking all of the leaps of faith that offer opportunities for me to succeed.

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Graduating College Early

This is only my third year at Nyack College, but I will be graduating this upcoming May with a four year degree. I have been fortunate enough to save the time and money that would be required to complete two of the eight semesters that would usually be required to graduate from Nyack. It required a lot of extra work, but the rewards are worth it. This article is geared more towards people early in their college career or nearing the end of their time in high school, but anyone still involved in education can benefit from it. Graduating college early may prove difficult, but in the end the time and money you will save will make your efforts worthwhile.

The most important thing  to remember when trying to graduate early is to get started early thinking about what is required to graduate. If possible, you should start thinking about college credits while you are still in high school. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to take Advanced Placement (AP) courses and other classes through my community college in order to earn college credits. Thankfully, all of them transferred to Nyack College. Earning credits like these can lighten your load when you actually get to college. Even if you are not offered the opportunity to take AP courses, there are often opportunities to earn college credits through your community college in other ways.

Next, decide early on what direction you want to take your education and where you want to end up by the time graduation arrives. Indecisiveness can add extra years and classes onto your college career. When you switch your major midway through your time in college, it  requires you to do extra work to catch up to those who have been in your new major since freshman year. One of my favorite phrases is “Pick it and stick it.” In this situation that means to pick a major and stick with it until graduation. That means that you will need to make a wise decision when picking your major.

CTA button for Blog UGFinally, you will need to work hard. You may need to do a few eighteen credit semesters or overload on credits for a few semesters in order to meet your credit requirements in less than four years. Three of my six semesters at Nyack were eighteen credit semesters. You may also want to take classes during summer or winter break in order to get ahead with credits. Meet with your academic advisor to figure out how many credits you will need to complete in order to graduate and how quickly you can complete them.

Graduating early can be stressful, but it will be rewarding. If you are able, get started planning for graduation early on in your educational career. If you are already behind, do not be discouraged. There are still ways to catch up and possibly get ahead. Whatever you do, do not be dismayed. Determination and careful planning will put you in a position to succeed in your education.

Applying for Grad School

Applying for Grad SchoolAlthough graduation is a satisfying and fulfilling experience, it presents the problem of deciding what to do next. In any academic field there are a variety of post-graduate paths to choose from, such as internships, full time employment, and graduate school. With graduation quickly approaching, I have been adamant about figuring out what I will do with the next step of my educational career. I plan on becoming a college professor, so I will need to obtain my masters and doctorate degree in order to teach at the collegiate level. This means that the next step for me is applying for grad school. I have already submitted my applications and am awaiting responses. If you are thinking of applying to grad school, here is some advice that will help to guide you in your application experience.

Which school is the best for you?

So you know why you should go to grad school.  The first order of business in applying to graduate schools is choosing which schools to apply to. Things to consider when making this decision are the reputation, mission, location, and cost of the school. You should want to be a part of an academic institution that has a good reputation and high standing within your field. You should also look at the school’s mission statement to see if its views, goals, and ambitions align with yours. Be sure that the schools you apply to are located in a place in which you would not mind living for a few years. Consider not only the cost of attending the school, but the cost of applying. Graduate school applications can range from 50 to 75 dollars, which is a reason to be selective about where you apply. I would advise against applying to schools that you cannot envision yourself attending, so be sure that every school you apply to is a legitimate option.

Get Together Your Paperwork

The next thing to do is to get started! It is easy to procrastinate when it comes to grad school applications, especially when the deadlines are far in the future. Do not allow the deadlines to sneak up on you and cause you to rush your applications. There will usually be two deadlines: a priority deadline and a regular deadline. When you apply before the priority deadline you are put into the running for merit-based scholarships, which are often given out on a first come, first served basis. You will want to get your applications in as soon as possible in order to have the best chance for the most scholarships. Also, be sure to ask your recommenders for their recommendations far in advance, as they may take a long time to get to your recommendation. You do not want your application held up by a busy professor or professional connection.

Thankfully, my application process has gone very smoothly. I found three schools that fit my academic plans, started early, and got all my applications done in good time. I made the priority deadline, and my recommenders submitted their recommendations right on schedule. Now comes the fun part: the waiting. It feels good to have all of the hard work out of the way, but now I am anxious to hear back from the schools I applied to. Hopefully this advice will help grad school applicants to be at ease as they apply.

Getting Ready to Graduate

High School GraduationIt doesn’t seem like all too long ago that I first walked onto the Nyack College campus during orientation as a boisterous, overconfident freshman ready to conquer anything and everything that college had to offer. In the three years since that day my confidence has not been quelled, but it has been strengthened and matured. As I start getting ready to graduate and enter my last semester as a student of Nyack College, I find that I need that confidence more and more. Just as in my senior year of high school, I can feel “senioritis” lurking in the back of my mind. If you are getting ready to graduate, it can be difficult to stay focused and finish strong, but with determination and attention to detail you can be prepared to graduate when the time comes.

The first thing to do when you are getting ready to graduate is to make sure that you will be able to take all of the classes that you need for your major. Connect with Registrar to verify what classes you still have left to take and to make sure that they are offered in the time you have remaining until graduation. I had an issue with this before the Fall 2013 semester began, but thankfully Registrar contacted me when the issue arose. Because I failed to verify what classes I still needed, I registered for classes that I didn’t need and didn’t register for classes that I did need. For those reading this whom are soon to graduate, it is better to be proactive about what classes you still need to take so that you don’t run into the problems that I did.

You may find that the classes you still need are not being offered when you need them. I ran into this problem as well. There are two ways to remedy this: independent studies and modifications of program. With independent studies, you can take required courses that have been offered previously when they are not being offered currently. If you are considering an independent study, be aware that they entail more self-motivation and a lot more writing than a class taught in the classroom. A modification of program, or MOP, is when one course fulfills your requirement to take a different course. For instance, if you are required to take biology but biology is not being offered again until after your planned date of graduation, you may be able to obtain an MOP to make a different science class fulfill your biology requirement. Keep in mind that you need the approval of both your academic advisor and your department head in order to get an MOP.

Getting ready to graduate requires careful preparation. The most important thing is to be proactive and not let “senioritis” get the best of you. Thankfully, I feel confident and ready to graduate. Be sure that you are ready, too.

A Family Meal

A Family MealIf you read my last post, Conducting a Worship Survey across Denominations, you know that I have been asking pastors about their views on Baptism, communion, and worship. While doing the Worship Survey I ended up conducting a phone interview with a Lutheran pastor named Pastor John Havrilla of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. He had a very interesting view of communion. He compared it to a family meal in that it is meant to bring people together to fellowship. He used the Thanksgiving feast as an example of this type of communal meal. In both communion and Thanksgiving there is much more meaning behind the meal than how much food there is or how good it tastes. Communion gives us the opportunity to commune with our fellow believers just as Thanksgiving gives us an opportunity to gather together and fellowship with our loved ones. I experienced this firsthand in both the communion service I took part in most recently and the Thanksgiving dinner that my family held at my parents’ house.

I last took part in communion a few weeks ago at my grandparents’ church. One thing that I really like about communion at this church is that a different pair of people serve the bread and wine every time communion is served. The pair that did it when I last attended was my grandmother and grandfather. I have never served communion, but it seems to be an important and rewarding activity. The servers get to greet each person that takes communion, look them in the eyes, and share the love of Christ with them. One of the most essential parts of the communion meal is the fellowship and togetherness that it creates, and the servers get to create brief moments of fellowship with every person in the sanctuary. As a participant in this particular communion Sunday I tried my best to communicate with as many people as I could before and after the meal was served. I think that everyone who participates in communion should try to embody the communal aspect of the meal.

I also did my best to embody the communal aspect of Thanksgiving this year. My grandparents from both sides and my fiancé’s family came over to my parents’ house this year to join my family for Thanksgiving dinner. Being that the meal was being served at my house I had a large part in getting the food and the house ready for our guests. Instead of seeing the preparation as laborious or unpleasant, I viewed it as a blessing and a privilege to be able to create an atmosphere of fellowship and quality time with family. Like the servers for the communion service I was able to serve food to each person, look them in the eye, and share brief moments of fellowship with everyone at the table. I was also able to have good conversations with everyone who came and enjoy my extended family’s company.

Community is a central aspect of Christianity, and communion is a very important activity for Christian community. Pastor John’s comparison of communion and Thanksgiving is very relevant in today’s individualistic society. Many Christians do not value community in the way that they should. Both communion and Thanksgiving bring people together so that they can spend time together and talk over food. This sense of community is lacking in our homes and churches, and activities like communion and Thanksgiving, when done with the right heart and mind, can help to remedy that lack.

Conducting a Worship Survey across Denominations

This semester I am taking an independent study with Dr. Amy Davis Abdallah called “Worship: Ancient and Future.” It is a class that is normally taught in the classroom, but Dr. Davis and I have followed the classroom-style course schedule in the independent study format. Recently, though, we have taken the course in a completely different direction than it normally goes. We have created a summative paper that is personalized to me. For this paper I sent out a list of survey questions by email to as many pastors from different denominations as I was able to reach in order to find out their views on worship, baptism, and communion. I am also researching the creeds, catechisms, and other theological writings from each denomination to find out what they say about these subjects. I will then compare the statements of the pastors with what I find in their respective denomination’s foundational texts, and I will compare the views of the different denominations with each other. So far this assignment has proven to be very interesting.

There are some denominations that consider baptism to be necessary for salvation, and there are some that consider it to be a public declaration of the salvation that has already taken place. There are some denominations that view the bread and wine used in communion as containing the real presence of Jesus Christ, and there are some that view them as symbols of Christ’s blood and body that are to be used in commemorating Christ’s redemptive work on the cross.I have noticed a distinct trend in each denomination: those denominations that believe that baptism is required for salvation also believe in the real presence of Christ in the communion elements, and those that believe that baptism is a public declaration of faith also believe that communion is solely commemorative. Among the former group are Lutherans, the Reformed Churches of America, Presbyterians, and Episcopals, and among the latter group are Baptists, Pentecostals, and the Evangelical Free Churches of America (this list is representative rather than exhaustive). Churches belonging to the denominations in the former group usually practice infant baptism, and churches belonging to those of the latter group usually baptize only those who are old enough to profess their faith.

I am grateful to be able to see the views and opinions of the different denominations. I was baptized Baptist and I grew up Pentecostal, so until now I never had an opportunity to see and understand what the former group believes. I honestly thought that only Catholics baptized infants, so it came as a surprise to see that other Protestant denominations hold firm to this practice. I had never even heard of the real presence of Christ being in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper until I started taking this class. I never realized how drastically different the doctrines of the different sects of the same Christian faith could be. The encouraging thing, though, is that every denomination placed Jesus at the center of baptism and communion, and every denomination considered these activities to be forms of worship.

You Did it to Me

On the way to workMatthew 25:31-46 describes the time when the Son of Man will come in his glory and judge the world. He will separate the righteous from the wicked, and to the righteous he will say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” The righteous, confused by his statement, will ask him what he means; they did not serve him this way, they will posit. The King will respond, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” Lately I have been thinking a lot about what it really means to serve the Lord. This passage has made me think differently about the way I serve others, namely at my job as a medical assistant.

I have been working in a medical office since soon after the end of the 2012-2013 school year. I was originally hired to do paperwork; I had no experience in medicine or patient care when I came on the staff. When some of the summer workers left to go back to college the medical staff became shorthanded. I was asked to be trained as a medical assistant, and I accepted. At first I felt very out of place. I had no idea what I was doing, I was awkward and uncomfortable with my new responsibilities, and I could not seem to pick up the new skills as quickly as I usually would in a different job. Honestly, I wanted to quit. This all changed, though, when I changed my perspective in light of this passage. I realized that by serving other people through my new responsibilities as a medical assistant I am serving the Lord. Jesus said, “I was sick and you visited me.” At my job I constantly interact with people who are sick. I have the precious opportunity to show them the love of Christ by meeting their basic need for medical care. I was being self-centered when I first started I was not thinking about the needs of the patients; I was only thinking about myself. Now that I have started to view serving the patients as serving God, I have been able to do my job more naturally. I am still not the best medical assistant in the world, but I am much better at it than when I first started.

I think that everyone could benefit from viewing their work in this way, especially in fields of work that involve catering to basic human needs. John Calvin writes that when one sees his work as ordained by God, there is no way for it to feel monotonous or pointless. Viewing your work in light of God’s calling makes serving others fulfilling and rewarding. After all, when we serve others, we are serving the Lord.

The Nyack Scholars Symposium

Nyack Scholars SymposiumI had the privilege of presenting in the Nyack Scholars Symposium on Thursday, November 7, 2013. I collaborated with Dr. Stephen Bennett, professor of the Old Testament and Biblical Hebrew at Nyack College, to produce a paper that we presented together at a breakout session at the symposium. The title of our paper is “Conceptions of Space: The Functions of Nehemiah’s Wall.” Joshua Ortiz, a graduate of Nyack College and a student at Alliance Theological Seminary, served as our responder. Our breakout session had a pleasing turnout, nearly filling a classroom in Boon. I greatly enjoyed being a presenter at the symposium, and I had a good time writing the paper, too.

Our paper explored the functions of the wall built by Nehemiah during the post exilic period in the history of Israel. The details of this building project are recorded in the Old Testament book of Nehemiah. When I told people the title of the paper I would be presenting, they did not see why this was a significant topic. I expected this type of response because a wall does not seem to be a very significant focus for a book of the Bible. I thought the same thing at first. As Dr. Bennett and I delved further into the subject matter, though, we uncovered much more meaning and significance behind the wall than can be noticed at a glance.

Along with its function in protecting Jerusalem from military threat, Nehemiah’s wall served to separate the people of Israel from foreign people groups in order to prevent religious pluralism. The first wall was destroyed, along with the rest of Jerusalem, by the Babylonians in the sixth century B.C., initiating the Babylonian Exile. One of the theological reasons that God allowed Jerusalem to be destroyed was religious pluralism caused by alien influence and foreign marriages. Foreign marriages and worshiping other gods is clearly prohibited in the Torah, and because the Israelites did not obey these commands, God’s favor was removed from them. The return of the exiles and the rebuilding of the temple under the leadership of Ezra signified the reestablishment of God’s favor on the Israelite nation. The reconstruction of the wall around Jerusalem represented both symbolic and physical separation from the people groups surrounding the city. Our paper focuses on the wall’s function of maintaining proper worship by setting the Israelites apart from other people groups.

Since my freshman year I have enjoyed the Nyack Scholars Symposium. Students and faculty get the opportunity to be educated on subjects and topics outside of their field, and presenters can share their research with a captive audience. Being a presenter at the symposium is an invaluable experience in my academic career, and I appreciate the opportunity to research for something more than a class.

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